Once upon a time in this very country, a boy could wander through the woods on a warm evening exploring his surroundings. and shooting small game or tin cans or anything he felt like shooting. He was trusted to use his rifle. It was not powerful rifle, but he was taught that it was still a weapon,and he knew this and respected it.
As he wondered though the woods near his home, that groundhog that his older neighbor lady wanted him to get rid of, may turn into a Nazi, or if he was my generation, a commie. He would use the same rifle for small game when it was in season. Usually he just carried it with him and would plink when the mood came on. The rifle was usually a single shot bolt action with open sights. Maybe a repeating bolt action. A few would have carried a lever action or pump action, but it was always a .22 long rifle. Usually after years or carrying a BB gun before moving up to the holy of all holies, the 22.
This time is now long gone for the most part but at one time if was nothing special. When I was a boy I had a single shot 22 bolt action winchester like the one pictured. Though mine was not in this good as shape. I live in a rural area in the south east and n one thought anything of a boy walking down the single lane road with a 22 rifle. I would walk through the hills in the summer and fall with my rifle. When school was in, I would eat and after watching a few favorite cartoons if they were not canceled to show some boring ball game, I would grab my rifle and head off into the mountains behind my house.
I was never allowed to shoot at squirrel with the rifle at that age because my Dad feared me shooting at anything at a high angle. Like small game in a tree. He worried a miss might come down and hurt some one so I was told not to shoot at game in trees. but many chipmunks and other small game made for rich targets. One day I spent 8 or 9 hours leaning against a huge oak tree deathly still as I shot chipmunk after chipmunk. It never got any better than shooting commie groundhogs trying to raid my Grandma’s garden like Russkies sweeping through Europe looking for food after spending all their money on building nukes!
As I got older. friends would want to join me or come along. Mainly they wanted to waste my ammo and shoot just so they could say they did it. they were not gun guys like I already knew I was. they would come with me but showed little patience or skill and shooting was no more than a passing thought for them. Besides I nor my Dad trusted them with a rifle. so I very, very rarely had a friend with me.
When I held that rifle in my hand, I knew the rest of my life would be spent with a rifle or pistol in my hand. Even then I could not imagine life without one. By 9 years of age, my Dad had given me my first 1911 and I had been shooting it ,but It did not accompany me until a few years later. Ammo for the “45” was too expensive and important for just plinking. Later I was given a Marlin semi auto 22 by my Grandpa. It was pretty heady stuff for me at the time, but like every kid in history who had one learned, it was not all that accurate and cheap rimfire ammo fouled it so fast it was more a pain than it was fun.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s or earlier loves guns and lived in a rural area probably has a lot of stories like mine. I have met people who told me in the late 70s. they would keep their rifle or shotgun in their school locker before leaving to hunt after school let out. No one cared and no one was ever hurt believe it or not.
One of my friends a bit younger than my own Father has a lot of wonderful stories about him and his 22. When He was a boy he had a Winchester single shot bolt action. like a million boys before and after him. He lived in a rural town in WV that sprouted a few businesses near a creek, One business was a general store ( and my friend says upstairs it was brothel) that set against the creek. The owner kept grain and corn in barrel on the back side and was constantly in a fight with rats. My friend said every weekend he would wade across the creek with his rifle and lay in wait. He would shoot the rats as they came in from the creek bank to raid the corn. For every two rats he killed and showed the owner. he would get 25 cents. He used this money for buying his 22 ammo and it kept him shooting all summer.
My own Dad told stories of how he and friend would walk or ride their bikes to a garbage dump used by a local town at the time. Back then. the people would just drive to the city dump and toss it out. Predictably the place was lousy with huge rats. He and his friends would spend all day shooting those rats grown fat, lazy and complacent from eating the leftover swill of the townspeople. The dump was disturbingly close to the local river and apparently it was a real treat when it rained hard enough for the river to raise. When the water was high enough to get into the dump, the shooting became fast and furious as the rats swam into the water.
Of course shooting random trash floating down the creek or river was always worthwhile even when I was growing up in the 1980s. A lot has been done to protect the environment, but in the rural south east in the 80s, Garbage would still float down the river when the water was high after a long hard rain.
A lot of boys that grew up to be shooters spent countless hours with their 22s just like I did. No doubt the generations before had even more fun with their rifles than we did. Having more freedom and less people and homes around, they had freedom to do just about anything within reason. Sadly the days of a Boy grabbing his 22 rifle, Boyscout canteen, pocket knife and ammo and heading out to shoot , pick black berries and shoot tin cans, are probably over for soon will be. It was a great way to grow up and I feel sorry for those who lived in the city or another country and could not have these experiences.
Pictured is A winchester model 67 single shot bolt action. Vintage canteen was used by a friend of the family when he was a young Scout. Remington 100 year anniversary retro oil can and my Father’s vintage case knife with scarf.